Scholars agree that knowledge-intensive firms (hereafter: KIFs) crucially contribute to the growth of economic systems, since they promote technological change, open new innovation routes and are important sources of new employment (Rothwell and Zegvel, 1982; Oakey, 1991; Baptista et al., 2008). In particular, these firms play a central role in spawning economic advances, generating positive effects on regional growth (Audretsch and Keilbach, 2004, 2005; for a study on the Italian context see also Piergiovanni et al., 2012). However, empirical evidence has documented large and persistent differences in new KIFs creation across geographical areas (see, for example, Fritsch and Falck, 2007; Piva et al., 2011). It is therefore of both scientific interest and policy relevance to investigate the origins of this geographical heterogeneity. A better understanding of the determinants of new KIFs creation at the local level contributes to design better policies to support these firms and, ultimately, regional development. Conventional wisdom suggests that KIFs have knowledge as their primary value-creating asset. Typical examples of KIFs are indeed R & D laboratories, high-tech companies, law and accounting firms, management, engineering and computer consultancy companies (Alvesson, 1995). Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that new KIFs creation in a geographical area depends on the availability of knowledge in that area. In turn, local knowledge availability is positively related to the presence of universities, which may favour the generation and exploitation of new entrepreneurial opportunities at the local level (Audretsch and Lehmann, 2005).
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